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Facebook Sued for Facilitating Age Discrimination in Job Ads

By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Last updated on

Facebook has more personal data on its users than almost any other website, and certainly more than any other social media site. And that data is particularly valuable to advertisers, who like the ability to target ads as closely to their chosen demographic as possible. This goes for job ads as well, as employers want to reach people who live in a certain area or tout specific credentials like degrees or job experience on their profiles.

But there's a fine line between targeted ads and discrimination, and it can all depend on the individuals you're excluding from viewing your ad. A new lawsuit claims Facebook allowed major employers to target potential employees by age, allegedly discriminating against older users, some as young as 36.

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The suit, filed by the Communications Workers of America, names Amazon, Goldman Sachs, T-Mobile, UPS, and Verizon, among others, as having placed recruitment ads limited to particular age groups, according to ProPublica and the New York Times, meaning other Facebook users outside those age ranges could not view the ads. Some of those ads, like a recent Verizon spot seeking financial planning and analysis applicants, were only displayed to users between 25 and 36 years old.

"This pattern or practice of discrimination denies job opportunities to individuals who are searching for and interested in jobs," the lawsuit claims, "reduces the number of older workers who apply for jobs with the offending employers and employment agencies, and depresses the number of older workers who are hired."

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"Used responsibly," Facebook responded, in a written statement, "age-based targeting for employment purposes is an accepted industry practice and for good reason: it helps employers recruit and people of all ages find work." That sentiment was not shared by Washington employment lawyer Debra Katz, who was adamant that the age-targeted ads were "blatantly unlawful."

The federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits employers from discriminating against employers and applicants who are 40 years of age and older based on their age. The ADEA applies to advertisements as well as hiring, including the application process, interview, hiring, compensation, promotion or demotion, work evaluations, job assignments, discipline, and termination. Ads may only include age limitations if age is a bona fide occupational qualification based on business necessity.

It's Facebook users 40 or older who may have been denied the chance to learn about job openings who filed the lawsuit. Whether such targeted ads violate federal employment law remains to be seen.

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